Tin Can Bay Seafood Festival

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A small town festival, featuring the catch of the local commercial fishermen, brought people from far and wide. We enjoyed eating the coconut prawns the most. The sand sculptor was interesting to watch, as well as the locals with their working antique steam engines (actually the steam engine group looks exactly like the one we have seen in Hobart — we need to research this a bit).

Tin Can Bay Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins

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In the 1950’s an injured Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin beached himself on the sand at Barnacles Cafe in the town of Tin Can Bay. The local commercial fishermen began to feed the dolphin catch from their boats, and named him Old Scarry. After recovering, the dolphin returned to the wild, and would come to the beach from time to time for a free meal. In 1991 a female brought her calf to the beach, and the local school children named the calf Mystique. Mystique continues to visit the bay, as the third generation to carry on this tradition.

The staff of the Tin Can Bay Volunteer Coast Guard manage the feedings, using only the healthiest, freshest fish for feeding the dolphins, and requiring tourists to sterilize their hands before receiving a fish. The volunteers interact with the dolphins who arrive an hour or more before the 8 AM feeding time, giving us onlookers plenty of time to take photos, and to hear the stories that the volunteers have to tell.

At 8 AM, tourists line up and one at a time offer a fish to a dolphin who accepts it politely. We arrived early to watch and photograph the activities. The following day, as we passed by Barnacles Cafe in our dinghy, no dolphins had come to be fed, and the many tourists were looking out into the bay searching for a humpback dorsal fin out in the water.

How fortunate we were to be in the right place at the right time to see these fascinating dolphins up close and to hear their story.

Breaching Humpback Whales

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As we traveled from Tin Can Bay to Mooloolaba, we came across several humpback whale mom and calf pairs. These whales are slowly working their way south to Antarctica for the summer. On the way, the mother teaches her calf important things, such as breaching, and fin slapping. Once the calf learns to breach, apparently, the calf loves to practice, playing by flinging itself out of the water and making a huge splash when it lands. It really looks like fun, and we caught some of these calves in our photos. While the calf was breaching, the mom lay on her back with her long pectoral fins up in the air, then slapping them on the water. Amazing to watch.

We are completely convinced that mom and calf were playing together — just having a fun afternoon after class.

Aussie Cosy Slippers

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While aboard ADAGIO for wine and nibbles, Jane from s/y ESCONDIDO pulled out a pair of beautiful knitted slippers to keep her bare feet warm in the cool evening air. I knew an excellent knitting project when I saw one, so I asked Jane for the knitting instructions. The following morning she and her husband Frank delivered her hand-written instructions to ADAGIO as they were departing Garry’s Anchorage, on their way to Tin Can Bay. I have posted a photo of Jane’s hand-written instructions rather than transcribe them to text and run the risk of introducing human error (mine). Please let me know if you have difficulties reading the instructions. Enjoy your warm Cosy Slippers.

Wildlife and New Friends in Garry's Anchorage

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An enormous and very strong High pressure system became stationary in the Great Australian Bight, so we found a safe anchorage while the southeasterlies blew and heavy rain approached. Garry’s Anchorage is about three quarters of the distance south in the Great Sandy Straits, and is popular with cruisers for its all-round protection in inclement weather. As usual, we anchored away from other boats, and fortunately were close enough to the shore to see the wildlife. I used the long telephoto lens on our digital SLR camera to photograph what I discovered with our binoculars. The tidal range was about two and a half meters, rising and falling over a sandy beach bordered by mangroves. Such a habitat attracts a complex food web of wildlife. As we entered the anchorage we saw a mother Caspian Tern tutoring her chick.

From ADAGIO we watched numerous types of shore birds feeding on the beach during the day. A Curlew with a very long, downturned beak probed the sand for tidbits. A flock of Godwits flew in, and even the dancing Willie Wagtail appeared on the scene, begging the Curlew for a taste of its catch. A heron flew along the shore. A beautiful Brahminy Kite, called the Singapore Bald Eagle in Southeast Asia, perched in a dead tree each morning and evening scanning the surroundings for a meal. On the opposite shore, I watched a Great Egret, Australian Pelican and Ibis.

We made new friends with two of the other cruising boats in the anchorage, KIDNAPPER and ESCONDIDO. They invited us to join them for a walk ashore. I was introduced to a bright blue Soldier Crab, and later watched a Curlew catch one. There were fresh Dingo tracks in the sand from the morning, and large round depressions on the beach had been created by Stingrays at high tide. As we walked along the forest road, a Whipbird sang its unusual song, described as a “loud, ringing, whip-crack call,” which, during breeding season, is instantly answered by the female Whiipbird. You can hear it by clicking on this link: www.birdsaustralia.com.au—australian-bird-calls.html

Watching the day-long drama of wildlife nearby was a real treat.

Whales and Sea Turtles in Platypus Bay

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Where do the humpback whales stop to rest and play on their southern migration from the Great Barrier Reef to Antarctica? In the the shallow warm waters of Platypus Bay in northern Hervey Bay inside Fraser Island!

The weather was forecast to be good for us to watch whales again, so we set off early in the morning from Big Woody Island. Our guide books and charts showed that we could follow a channel along the beautiful sandy shore of Fraser Island. This is the largest sand island in the world, and has been declared a World Heritage Site. Hervey Bay sits in its crescent arms, and has been made a Whale Management Area, in Great Sandy Marine Park.

Mother humpback whales were still nursing their calves, fattening them up for the cold Antarctic waters. We saw several mother/calf pairs, nursing, resting, sometimes feeding, playing and socializing. There were unfortunately numerous whales with dorsal fins that had been cut by boat propellers. The mothers have eaten very little since leaving Antarctica and have used their reserves of body fat. A calf can drink 120 gallons of mother’s milk each day.

We saw a calf resting on the front of its mother’s head. One mother was lunge feeding on small fish as the calf watched. Just when our camera was not ready, two humpback whales breached together, side by side.

Soon we realized that we could hear a humpback whale singing! We first heard long moans, repeated every ten seconds or so. This continued for about an hour, then was interspersed with other sounds, all of which could be played on a cello, we think. It was magical. We could hear the song from on deck while we were watching for whales, but we heard the best sounds from inside ADAGIO’s hulls. Then we noticed that the small, light gray dolphins which had arrived were making squeaks, sort of like what a small puppy sounds like if you press its paw too hard.

We saw a lone sea turtle on the surface and wondered what it could be doing. As we approached, a second turtle’s hear appeared, and we realized that the two turtles were mating.

We set the anchor for the night in Platypus Bay, but were awakened at 0230 hours by growing swells and increasing wind, so we raised anchor and headed back to the Great Sandy Strait for more protection from the weather. The whales will still be around until end of October. We wish them well during their migration back to the waters of Antarctica.

A Great Bowerbird

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During one of my walks along the shoreline boardwalk at Airlie Beach, a woman showed me the bower of a Great Bowerbird, in the mangroves below the walkway. We found the bird perched in a nearby tree. He came to his bower while we were watching and re-positioned a few of the decorations. Our bird guide says that each species of bowerbird is known for the color and type of objects it uses to decorate its bower. The Great Bowerbird collects green and white glass for the front lawn of the bower, and white objects, mostly plastic drink tops, which look like flower petals for the corridor of the bower. The bower itself is made up of long, thin twigs, placed vertically on either side of a central corridor, and elegantly bending inwards to form the roof of the corridor. I hope he attracts a mate soon, since his bower is located below the high spring tide line.

Eungella National Park

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About an hour’s drive west of the town of MacKay, we visited the Eungella National Park. The proper pronunciation is YAN-gah-lah. It is one of Queensland’s most ecologically diverse parks, with 860 plant species and much wildlife, in a sub-tropical rain forest. We followed several of the 22 kilometers of bush walking tracks, going first to the Platypus viewing deck. Dawn and dusk are the best viewing times, but Dorothy caught a quick glimpse of one mid-morning.

One of the trees was called a “Red Cedar”, and its wood and bark looked just like the Red Cedar in North America, but it is a Southern Hemisphere deciduous tree. We heard a great deal of beautiful bird song, but only saw an Australian Brush-turkey and a brilliantly irredescent blue and green Noisy Pitta. The Australian Brush-Turkey was in full breeding plumage, fan tail and all, with a bright yellow wattle below its red neck and head. Native palms and ferns formed most of the forest understory. It was lovely.

However, we were frequently reminded that we are still in Australia where flora and fauna are out to get you. The Moreton Bay Fig tree is also known as the Strangler Fig, because it often begins life growing on the trunk of another tree which is eventually enmeshed with aerial roots and killed. The host tree dies and leaves a hollow lattice through which you can see light. An aggressive vine reached across the trail and grabbed our clothing with its spines. Unbeknownst to us, the local leeches drop onto you from the trees. Dorothy discovered blood on her leg, coming through her pants, where a leech had been sucking her blood and had dropped off after it had had its full. She found a second leech just getting started, and could feel it gnawing on her skin. Uggggh!

All was made right when we discovered Susanne Dedner’s Hideaway Cafe. Dorothy was able to clean up a bit, and we enjoyed delicious mochas on the sunny deck with lovely views. Susanne invited us to tour her Magical Garden, which is open only by invitation. Classical music serenaded us as we walked among lovely palms and ferns among which jeweled sculptures had been created. The photos will show you the best of it. We were quite amazed by the display, and the effort it had taken Susanne to create the garden.

Manta Ray Bay Reef Life

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Steve and I secured ADAGIO to a mooring in Luncheon Bay on the north shore of Hook Island and launched our dinghy ALLEGRO. We tied our dinghy to a public dinghy mooring in the next bay to the east, Manta Ray Bay. Steve erected the bimini top for shade, and I slipped into the water. I was immediately surrounded by curious fish who had been waiting under the boat for me — sergeant majors, blue fish with yellow tails, colorful wrasses and more. They followed me as I snorkeled towards the fringing reefs between the mooring and the shore.

The coral was spectacular, with large “fields” of blue staghorn coral, enormous brain corals, more than 3 meters tall, plate corals that were several meters across, rising in circular layers towards the sun. Many colorful soft corals were flowing in the currents. I swam with my underwater camera out in front of me, ready to snap a shot at a mili-second’s notice, before the fish turned tail.

The vistas were wonderful collections of corals of every size, shape and color — pinks, purples, yellows, golds, orange, white, blue, violet, lavender, red, and everything in between. The fish joined the spectacle, the most colorful being the wrasses and parrot fish, plus butterfly fish and angelfish. A boat full of tourists arrived to snorkel, and began sprinkling brown bread in the water. Suddenly we were surrounded by hundreds of fish of all kinds, but best of all was a very large Humphead Wrasse (about a meter in length). The wrasse just coasted through the crowd, leisurely and unafraid, but not aggressive or begging, just cruising around and around.